A week ago tonight, dozens of teenagers in North Philadelphia gathered outside of the Pearl Theatre, also known as the AMC North Broadstreet 7, near Temple University. But they weren’t there to catch the newest flick playing at the Pearl, “Ouija: Origin of Evil.”
According to Philadelphia police, they were there looking for trouble. Big trouble.
These kids were brought together by an Instagram post for a “meetup.” By 8 p.m., more than 150 youths were assembled. They moved menacingly down the street in mass, while small breakout groups of the teens started randomly attacking pedestrians, most of them Temple students returning to campus from a football game across town, according to reports.
They indiscriminately punched, tackled and kicked their victims. One of them even punched a police horse, believe it or not.
Police said the attackers then ran into the neighborhood near Temple and assaulted passersby for the next couple of hours.
The wind-up so far was four arrests, eight injuries and a lot fury in Philly. Meanwhile, Temple University has announced it will increase its already considerable police and security presence on campus.
The attackers in police custody, who are between the ages of 14 and 17, are part of “flash mobs” that have started popping up in the “City of Brotherly Love” in recent years. The cops say they are looking for other suspects in this matter.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Social media reared its head into this matter again when one father of a victim of the attacks took to Facebook to air his rage and frustration.
Joe Lauletta of Holland, Pa., whose 19-year-old daughter, Christina, was savagely beaten in the melee, wrote that she had emerged from the subway after watching the Temple football game when a group of 30 to 40 teenagers swarmed around her.
“Every part of her body is badly bruised,” Lauletta wrote of his daughter, a Temple sophomore. “It makes me cry just thinking about it.”
But Lauletta also noted in the post that the attackers were “black teenagers” and called them “sick animals.”
As you can imagine, such harsh language fueled an endless barrage of responses on Facebook and elsewhere, some of which was frankly quite racist and offensive. Meanwhile, other writers who embrace political correctness took to social media and condemned Lauletta himself as a bigot and a knee-jerk racist.
As the father of a Temple freshman, I can understand Lauletta’s anger. I can’t imagine how I would have reacted if my daughter was senselessly attacked in such a manner.
At the same time, I wish he would’ve refrained from venting his rage on social media. My hunch is that Lauletta is not a virulent racist. (He has since said in interviews with the media that his post was not racially motivated and that he is not a bigot.)
The problem is, social media allows us to vent our spleens without really thoughtfully considering the consequences, whether it’s an upset dad or someone who’s quick to denounce someone as a bigot. It also obviously gives access for those in our society with a penchant for violence and criminal behavior to gather and cause mayhem.
This Temple episode is a lesson yet again regarding the unbridled power of social media. With all of its positive and wonderful qualities, it also has the ability to stir up a lot of trouble and discord in our lives.
The question is, how do we harness that power and ensure that it’s not used for violence, crime, and potentially incendiary and hurtful comments?
That’s our challenge, and there are no easy answers. But as a society, this is not an issue that will go away, and it’s something we need to think about more and more.
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